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The “Ready to Tear” World of Vintage Paper Dresses

OK. I go through these little phases of obsession. For a while it was collecting vintage choker necklaces that had little flowers with a rhinestone center. Then Enid Collins bags. Then it was Franciscan Starburst china. Then it was 70s 8-track tape players. The list is endless, I won’t bore you (today anyway. heh). S0 a while back I was fascinated with paper dresses. I tried to buy one on eBay but some crazy Greek bidder was literally buying EVERY SINGLE ONE. It became a “thing”. I would find 5 or 6 of them on there….and Greek Paper Dress Magnate would inevitable outbid me and win ALL of them. I kept a mental tally and I swear this guy accumulated about 45 of ’em in a short period. It drove me completely crazy and, of course, made me want one even more!!

The paper dress was actually the genius of the Scott Paper Company (yep, the same peeps who made paper towels and “facial tissue”). In 1966 they marketed the “disposable dress” as a marketing gimmick and sold them for $1.25 in grocery stores to promote their new colored tissues. You also got a little stash of coupons for paper towel, along with your sassy A-line dressie. Scott didn’t really mean for them to be taken seriously but ladies knew what was up and ordered them in droves. I mean how fun to “hem” your new dress with a pair of scissors??

Scott advertisers described the paper dress as “created to make you the conversation piece at parties. Smashingly different at dances or perfectly packaged at picnics. Wear it anytime…anywhere. Won’t last forever…who cares? Wear it for kicks — then give it the air!”

Hallmark soon followed suit and released a line of paper hostess dresses, designed to coordinate with napkins, tablecloths and more. It must be said that the dresses were, in fact, made of more than simply paper. Most of them were composed of “Dura-Weve,” (similar to a Fed Ex mailer!) which was cellulose reinforced with rayon. They were still more fragile than cloth, however they were not likely to rip at the slightest move. Many paper dresses featured Velcro closures, adding to the “space-age” mystique.

Paper dresses were even the cover story of Mademoiselle magazine in 1967!

“In terms of how much pow you get for your pennies, the paper dress is the ultimate smart-money fashion! And the news in the paper is this: surprisingly pretty prints, clever new shapes that would do credit to an origami expert. (Surprisingly long life too: as many as 12 outings).”  —”The Big Paper Craze” Mademoiselle, June 1967.

 


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{How cute are the “sizes” in that above dress? “Eeny” “Meeny” and “Miney”. I love it.}

Scott stopped producing them after the first run (I think all the suits were a little freaked out by the success, declaring they “weren’t in the garment business”). No worries, lots of others companies jumped on the band wagon. Andy Warhol joined in with his infamous Campbell’s Soup Dress (the “Souper Dress”) and even Richard Nixon created a paper dress for female supporters!


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The trend continues and according to a Time Magazine article from 1967, “Sterling Paper believes in paper resort wear, the idea being that vacationers could buy paper clothes at the hotel when they arrive, throw them away when they depart, thus eliminating packing and carrying heavy luggage.” Amazing! Designers began upping the ante, creating full length gowns and mock paper “fur” coats.

Alas, the rage only lasted for a few years and fashionable “ready to tear” paper clothing died out as suddenly as it had appeared but remains a testament to the innovations of the 60s.

Greg procured a paper dress for me for Christmas a few years ago (yay greg!) and I love it—the packaging is kind of the best part. I think it was a fun fad—I kinda of wish they’d pick it up again. How fun/funny to put your dress in the recycling bin instead of the clothes hamper??

Recently there have been several touring exhibitions of paper dress collections. There was one at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and there is one currently in Melbourne at the Chadstone Shopping Center. Which makes me wonder….just WHO WAS  that crazy Greek man who scooped up all those dresses and just what did he do with them? Hmph.

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17 Responses

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  1. Katiecupcake says

    I always learn some groovy stuff at modern kiddo! I’m going to ask my mom if she remembers these!

  2. Mari, Small for Big says

    I want one! No, I want several! Then I could get as messy as I want with Birdie while looking stunningly mod at the same time. I actually reallly love the sillhouette and prints.
    GREAT find Alix, however did you stumble onto this phenom in the first place?

    • Alix says

      I have a crazy brain, Miss Mari. I honestly don’t know! haha. Things just get stuck in there….Greg calls me a Know-It-All, but I just store random stuff. I think I saw an ad in one of my old magazines years and years ago?? Hmmm….this is a great question! haha

  3. Melinda says

    I just learned something new.

  4. Cinti says

    I saw the chadstone exhibition and it’s the first time I encountered this interesting concept. I will make my dress out of the sports section today.
    X cinti

  5. pilgrim says

    my crazy psychic twin alix strikes again! i’ve been meaning to send you photos i took of that dress exhibition!! thats MY mall and i rounded a corner one day and BAM! there were the dresses 😀

  6. Dottie says

    I am SOOOO glad that you wrote about this! After seeing the one you featured in the Retro Round up! I wanted to know more about them. I also remember a reference to one on Happy Days–Joanie wanted to buy on, but Mrs. C. wouldn’t let her.

    Rad post per usual, lady!

  7. cricket says

    Wonderful, I had NO idea paper dresses ever existed until now! And for the record I’m not some bouncing youth…thank you for expanding my knowledge horizon (and entertaining me to the point of ticklishness)!

  8. julie chyma says

    I have a 1950’s paper dress i’d like to sell. What is it worth?

    • Alix says

      It totally depends on the style/color and the condition. Is it new in the package? Is it preworn? etc etc!

      • george george says

        Hi I just posted that yesterday I found an old paper dress in pristine condtion. Is there a place to sell it? I took many photos. wldtvl@hotmail.com

  9. Matthew says

    I design paper fashion…I love this story. I’ve known paper dresses have been around since the 60’s and it is sort of sad that this trend died. Women who buy and wear my paper gowns are always the bell of whatever ball they attend. I refer to them as my Paper Dolls 🙂
    Check out my site ThePaperDressCode.com
    Thanks again for sharing this story Alix!

  10. george george says

    Just yesterday I came across an amazing paper dress that’s in pristine condition and it’s a knee high gown style, it’s made from book pages. Not sure what to do with it, anyone have any ideas?

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